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Great Gatherings: Afternoon Tea
Indulge in this elegant English ritual
Taking a proper afternoon tea break may not be part of the daily American routine, but the English ritual of a formal tea, with all its elegant accompaniments—fine china, silver, linens, and beautiful bouquets—so captured the fancy of hostess Rachel Hollis that she adapted the niceties of traditional tea to create a refined luncheon.
“If you don’t know the exact protocol, chances are neither do your guests,” says Hollis. “Do a little research to get inspired, but feel comfortable incorporating your own twist.”
In a dining room by interior designer Chris Barrett, gracious elements include a palette of faint green and ivory, tailored toile slipcovers, and a chandelier that stuns with glamorous crystals. Tabletop finery takes a supporting role, bowing to the rich finish of the mahogany table. White linen placemats with pearl accents anchor each setting. Mint-colored dinner plates with gold flourishes accompany salad plates with ruffled edges that add a shapely twist.
Vintage silver heightens the splendor of the tablescape, as does sterling flatware with elaborately detailed handles. Antique salt and pepper shakers and tea strainers are ornate, but stainless steel platters and hammered napkin rings provide contemporary balance. The centerpiece features an array of flowers in milk-glass vases, lending an impromptu air.
In keeping with the afternoon tea theme, the menu includes dainty sandwiches and desserts, but the foundation of the meal is a chilled crab, mango, cucumber, and avocado salad tower that tastes like summer. A tea bar allows guests to choose favorite flavors; mini-teapots provide each guest with a personal supply of hot water.
“Hostesses are latching onto the idea of individual—rather than group—items,” says Hollis. “It’s so much fun when you get to select something just for yourself. It makes you feel pampered.”
Photography: Karyn Millet
Let There Be White
Interior designer Chris Barrett assembled a collection of antique ironstone for the display niches. The pieces are functional and subtly blend into the matching background.
Don’t take the easy route and pull the salt and pepper shakers from the kitchen table. These beauties are Gorham silver from Replacements.
To soften the dining chairs with a touch of femininity and sophistication, Barrett dressed them with tailored slipcovers made of cotton toile in cream and taupe. The two-piece covers are embellished with covered buttons.
Just Plain Pretty
Team a beautiful tray with ornate china for a winning combination. “Darley Abbey” bone china teacups and dinnerware are from Royal Crown Derby (866/337-2987), and the Wallace sterling silver tray is from Replacements.
Some occasions call for refined elements. The Wallace estate silver from Replacements and the linen placemats with beaded trim from Nuko Creations (732/542-0200) give the table a regal look.
Rachel Hollis hosted our regal British-inspired afternoon tea.
“Morning Glory” stainless napkin rings and “Omega” tiered tidbit tray are from Mary Jurek Design (310/533-1196). Flowers are by Seed Floral.
- Cucumber Wraps with Cress
- Smoked Salmon with Wasabi Caviar and Chive
- Creamy Basil Chèvre with Cucumber
- Brie with Truffle Honey and Candied Pecans
Tea sandwiches are only limited by your imagination—the combinations are endless. To make the tea sandwiches, choose a firm, thinly sliced white, rye, or pumpernickel bread and cut into circles with a biscuit cutter. Layer the ingredients and serve.
For the cucumber wraps, cut a cucumber lengthwise into thin strips. Spread cut bread with a soft cheese, such as Boursin, and roll into a tube. Wrap bread with cucumber slice (secure with toothpick if necessary); tuck a few watercress leaves into one end.
Strawberries with Chambord, Passion Fruit, and Vanilla Creams Scones with Lemon Curd, Strawberry Jam, and Devonshire Cream & Cherry Almond Tea Cakes
To make the creams, beat whipping cream with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Add Chambord, passion fruit flavoring, or vanilla extract and beat until incorporated; do not overbeat cream. Serve with fresh strawberries.
Small pastries can stand in for tea cakes and a trip to your favorite bakery will save you a lot of time and trouble. A specialty grocer can provide the lemon curd, jam, and Devonshire cream.
Crab Salad Tower with White Gazpacho
Recipe by The Spot Gourmet
Gazpacho: In blender, put 1 large peeled, seeded, chopped English cucumber, 2 cups seedless green grapes, 1 cup Marcona almonds, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, and 1/2 small minced shallot. Puree until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add 1 cup vegetable broth. Add 1/4 cup each plain nonfat yogurt and sour cream. Blend until incorporated. With motor running, gradually add 1/2 cup olive oil in thin stream. Puree until very smooth, about 1 minute. Add 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar and 2 tablespoons Spanish sherry; puree 1 minute more. Season to taste with salt and pepper; transfer gazpacho to bowl. Cover; refrigerate until well-chilled, or up to 3 days.
Crab Salad: In bowl stir together 1 pound good-quality lump crabmeat, 1/4 cup diced celery, 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives, 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 2 shakes each Worcestershire sauce and bottled hot pepper sauce, 1 teaspoon each prepared horseradish and Dijon-style mustard, and 1/4 cup mayonnaise. Cover; chill until needed.
Mango Salsa: In bowl stir together 1 cup diced mango; 1 tablespoon each diced red onion, diced red sweet pepper, and chopped fresh cilantro; 1 teaspoon minced, seeded fresh jalapeño pepper; 2 tablespoons lime juice; and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Cover and chill.
To Assemble: Seed, peel, and slice 1 mango and 1 avocado. Place one (3x2-inch) ring mold in center of each soup plate. In each ring mold, layer 1/2 cup crab salad, 4 slices mango, and 3 to 4 slices avocado. Cover avocado with plastic wrap. Refrigerate plated molds 1 hour.
To Serve: Pour 1/2 cup gazpacho around ring mold. Slowly remove mold, gently pressing avocado to keep tower in place. Remove plastic wrap. Top tower with mango salsa. Garnish with edible flowers and purchased wasabi caviar. Garnish soup with diced cucumber and fresh chopped dill. Serves 6.
A mélange of vintage two-cup teapots from Replacements presents each guest with a signature pattern for individualized appeal.